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ANC policy meet: Amandla ngawethu

Vicki Robinson

Delegates at the African National Congress's (ANC) policy conference this week seemed on course to ensure that President Thabo Mbeki's legacy of centralising power in the Union Buildings would be eradicated through a series of policy changes set to return power to the ruling party's mass base.

Delegates at the African National Congress’s (ANC) policy conference this week seemed on course to ensure that President Thabo Mbeki’s legacy of centralising power in the Union Buildings would be eradicated through a series of policy changes set to return power to the ruling party’s mass base.

ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe presented a consolidated report on the submissions from provinces and the leagues on organisational renewal at the opening of the policy conference on Wednesday in which the overarching call from the ruling party’s branches was for a return to the ANC as “the ultimate strategic centre of power to direct the affairs of the state and influence society”.

During his presentation on Wednesday, Motlanthe said that there had been consensus across provinces that power should be returned to ANC headquarters at Luthuli House and the office of the secretary general should be placed at the “centre of political management of the entire organisation”, while the role of the ANC presidency would be retained as per the ANC constitution.

KwaZulu-Natal, in its individual submission, went further, suggesting that the position of ANC national chairperson should be eliminated. The current national chairperson, Mosiuoa Lekota, is perceived as being close to Mbeki.

Summarising the submissions of the provinces, Motlanthe said: “The ANC is the ultimate strategic centre of power to which all cadres deployed in government should account. The centrality of the ANC must be reasserted and the movement should be the epicentre that drives the transformation agenda and governance process.”

Among the concrete recommendations from provinces to ensure that the presidency remains accountable to the ANC in the future are that:

  • provincial leadership consult regional leadership when deploying mayors and municipal executives;

  • national leadership (the presidency) consult provinces on the selection of premiers. Another view was that the provinces, not the president, should make the final decision on premiers;

  • the ANC give guidance to the president, premiers and mayors on all major decisions, including appointments and Cabinet reshuffles, and the composition of provincial executive councils and mayoral committees; and

  • the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) introduce monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to evaluate the performance of cadres (deployed to government).
Under Mbeki, the selection of premiers and mayors has been entirely in his hands, as per a resolution that was adopted at the 1997 Mafikeng national conference, which party officials have argued has enabled the centralisation of power in his office. He also has complete discretion over the appointment of his Cabinet.

While Motlanthe insisted that the succession battle would not feature during the policy conference, his reference to recommendations by provinces on the so-called “two centres of power” debate received the loudest response from the 1 500 delegates on the floor.

The provinces presented three options for the election of the next president:

  • Once elected, the president of the ANC should become the ANC’s candidate for president of the republic.

  • The NEC should decide on the ANC candidate for presidency of the republic based on the candidates produced by the list process.

  • The election of the ANC candidate for presidency of the republic should be held at the national conference when electing the leadership of the movement. This would allow the ANC conference to decide whether the two offices should be linked.
While the 12 breakaway commissions on organisational renewal were still discussing these options at the time of going to press, a straw poll of 19 delegates indicated strong support for the first option, which one NEC member said was the safest option and delegates were likely to support it pending the final outcome of the commission’s discussions on Friday.

The adoption of the first option would suit supporters of ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma, as it would rule out a third term for Mbeki as ANC president. A senior ANC member close to Mbeki said he believed the delegates, whether partisan or not, would select option one in the interests of logic.

A fourth suggestion from provinces was that the ANC constitution be amended to include a set of agreed criteria for presidential candidates’ moral standing that would be evaluated when electing the president. This would include the potential candidates’ track records on corruption.

Motlanthe said the provinces had further agreed that the tripartite alliance partners had to be involved in governance and policy-making in the ANC and that the mechanisms of interaction and coordination between the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party had to be strengthened. Under Mbeki, communication between the alliance partners has all but come to a standstill.

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